Helios-44, fabulous for its swirly bouquet is a Soviet copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm ƒ/2 lens produced under the Helios lens brand. The lens comes in may versions. The lens was produced in Soviet Union by KMZ, MMZ, Jupiter from 1958 until 1999. The lens comes in M42 mount and can be easily used by any Full frame or APSC cameras by using an adapter.
There are various versions of the lens. The original Helios 44 had 13 aperture blades while all the rest have 8 blades. The earlier versions are single coated prone to flares (artistic) but produce great swirly bouquet. The later versions are multi coated but they also produce great bouquet .There are some versions modified at Valdai plat which has 16 blades. I have not tested them but according to some they also produce elegant swirly bouquet. The focus is manual but the modern camera provide amazing functions like focus peaking which comes to help while using manual vinatge lenses.
The swirly bouquet is a character of this lens or rather the brand/make Helios and most prominent on Full Frame cameras rather than apsc or cropped sensor cameras. Apart from these lens, Helios 50mm lens and Helios 85mm lens produces great bouquet – I have all of them and write about them when I get the time. The effect is mainly due to a fault in these early lenses but like some other faults this particular fault has been greatly adapted by vintage lens fans worldwide. The dreamy swirly effect adds a very special touch to portraits and nature shots. Other then that some modification can also produce a different kind of artistic effect on images,- more on these at some other time. Also to be noted that these lens are not technically perfect, neither in terms of focus nor in scaling nor in proportion – but that is the beauty of vintage lenses which never had an array of elements and light weight enough to get a place in the camera bag.
(I have discussed later the method of creating swirly bouquet and dreamy effect using this lens.)
The early versions produced are:
- Helios-44 (Start) – Zenit Start Bayonet/ M39
This lens had aluminium body and 13 aperture blades. Nearly all of them are single coated. You will get a few on eBay or other places. But be sure the seller is trusted, has good reviews and the lens is serviced. Normally the old grease dries up which hardens the focussing ring making it difficult to operate. Also , there can be oil on the aperture blades which is normally given out by the age old grease which can start disintegrating. So a serviced lens is preferred even if it might cost you a few dollars more. Plus you get the benefit of lens cleaning. Also to be noted is bubbles in the glass but these are quite common in early glass and does not create any issue for the images unless you are a pixel peeper. Finally its very easy to self service this lens with just some basic tools and there are many videos on Youtube with step by step guides.
- Helios-44 – M39 SLR thread
Same as above but comes with a M30 thread. I have this lens – simply use a M39-M40 step up ring to use it with your adapter. Many of these lenses comes with a bad exterior but the optics serve the purpose for which you would be buying these lenses.
- Helios-44-2 – M42 mount
This lens was mass produced and is the most common available. The bouquet is fine, swirly the image soft and dreamy at all corners and will serve your purpose very well. Also this is the cheapest version and one can get a good copy for anything between 20$-50$. Once agin always try for a serviced lens as it will last longer. But keep in mind that the aperture control is not perfect and there will be flares. Also all Helios lens comes with two aperture rings – one to set the limit and one to set the actual aperture. You can limit the paerture to any F stop so that you don’t shoot wide open accidentally. However the best bouquet can be made only when you shoot wide open!
- Helios-44-3 – M42 mount
This lens is a bit scarce as not many was produced. For some this produces one of the best bouquet but for me the multi coating of these lens is definitely better than the earlier versions. I have a copy and below is a sample image taken with this lens.
Below are the later versions of the Helios 44 lens.
- MC Helios-44K-4 – Pentax K Bayonet Mount
- MC Helios-44M-4 – M42 mount
- MC Helios-44M-5 – M42 mount
- MC Helios-44M-6 – M42 mount
- MC Helios-44M-7 – M42 mount
- Helios-44-7 – M42 thread (For ZENIT-7, can be installed only on these cameras via an adapter – thread-bayonet ring).
These later lenses are multi coated (MC) , have much better resolution, micro contrast and rendering as a whole compared to the earlier versions as also the swirly bouquet is more controlled.
Shooting the Swirly Bouquet with Helios 44 lens.
The first and foremost this one has to remember is the open aperture. To do this you will have to set your aperture lock ring to maximum so that you can open the actual aperture fully. One or two step down is also ok but try to avoid too much bright light in the background like open skies and direct sunlight. The subject should be 3-5 feet ahead of you while the background around 20-30 feet behind the subject. The best thing is to try moving front and back with the camera and analyse the actual bouquet on the viewfinder. Just make sure to focus on the subject correctly and the rest of the dream creation will be taken care of by the lens!With little practice, I am sure you can produce great results.